By: KEN RITTER
A court officer briefly detained a group of journalists inside a Las Vegas courtroom Monday following a hearing involving Michael Jackson’s former personal physician.
Reporters, videographers and producers from The Associated Press and several other media outlets were stopped from leaving the courtroom for several minutes while Dr. Conrad Murray and his attorneys left the Clark County Family Court building.
Senior Clark County District Judge Gerald Hardcastle had left the bench when an armed, uniformed court marshal, Dennis Curran, politely declined several requests by journalists to let them leave.
Curran said he was following orders. His supervisor, Sgt. Steve Rushfield, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Clark County courts spokesman Michael Sommermeyer was among the people prevented from leaving. He said later he didn’t know why a court officer blocked the courtroom exit, but said it might have been to maintain safety and decorum.
“They’re police officers,” he said. “I guess they can deem what is necessary for public safety.”
A lawyer for the AP said the government can’t block journalists from lawfully pursuing a story.
“Whoever ordered this improper and possibly unlawful detention has some explaining to do,” AP associate general counsel Dave Tomlin said.
Murray is the focus of an investigation into Jackson’s death but has not been charged in that case.
He appeared in the Las Vegas court to explain the details of an agreement he made with a California woman over $15,000 in back child support payments. Murray had faced a contempt-of-court arrest on allegations that he failed to pay and failed to appear for previous hearings.
He was shielded from reporters and did not answer any questions when he arrived for the child support hearing.